WARNER ROBINS -- In February, Charles and Bonnie Walker bought the house next door to their Houston County residence in a foreclosure auction in hopes of having a rental property that would be easy to watch over.
Four months later they have neither the house nor the $37,500 they paid for it. The U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency, by its own admission, botched the foreclosure by failing to give the proper notice.
Bonnie Walker said for the money to be returned, the foreclosure would have to be canceled by a judge. Meanwhile the residents who the USDA says were behind on their payments -- the heirs of the original owner -- are still living there.
Perry attorney Steve Harrell filed a complaint in Houston County Superior Court against the USDA on behalf of the Walkers. A hearing was scheduled, but Harrell said the agency agreed Wednesday to a consent order to vacate the foreclosure and refund the money immediately with interest. If the agency follows through, he expects the Walkers will have their money by midweek.
Still, it raises many questions in his and the Walkers minds as to how such a thing could happen and how the USDA could have allowed the property to become 27 years delinquent. According to a letter from the USDA sent to the heirs attorney and copied to Harrell, the account for the late Mack E. Lester included eight outstanding loans totaling $187,758 in unpaid principal and $535,059 in unpaid interest.
Attorney calls case an outrage
Harrell said he cant understand how the USDA could have let the case get to such a point and how it could fail in something as fundamental as giving the proper notice. He said the heirs were notified 14 days in advance when they were supposed to be notified 30 days before the foreclosure. Although notices ran for four weeks in the legal organ, Harrell said the USDA was still required to give 30-days notice by certified mail.
The state law on foreclosure notice changed a few years ago from 14 days to 30 days, and Harrell cant understand how the USDA attorney handling the case could not have known that. But he said allowing the delinquency to go on for so long is even more galling.
Its ridiculous they let the people stay there indefinitely, he said. As a taxpayer, its outrageous.
Hobby Stripling, executive director of the Farm Service Agency in Georgia, said he did not know the specifics of the case but said its rare for a delinquency to be allowed to linger for so long.
If it was that long it most likely had to do with a civil rights issue, he said. Those loans go through a separate process.
He said the agency tries to give delinquent lien holders every opportunity to avoid a foreclosure, but the agency will foreclose if all else fails. He couldnt explain how the mistake was made on the notice.
We depend on our attorneys to write up the foreclosures, he said. Im not sure how the attorney missed that.
He referred further questions on the specifics of the case to the U.S. Attorneys Office in Macon. First Assistant U.S. Attorney Pete Peterman said he couldnt comment because it is a pending case.
Stripling said once the foreclosure is vacated, the agency will move forward with another foreclosure on the property.
Christine Lester, Mack Lesters mother, said his widow lives in the house now and has no intention of moving out. She disputed that the loans are delinquent.
The house is on Barrett Road near the Pulaski County line.
After buying the home at the foreclosure auction, Charles and Bonnie Walker immediately paid for it in full and got the deed. They were surprised when the occupants didnt move out and went to Harrell for help in having them evicted.
Thats how Harrell found out the foreclosure was illegal, which took the case in a new direction.
Bonnie Walker said she would have been satisfied if the money had simply been returned immediately and cant understand why it has taken so long.
I just dont know how this got so screwed up, she said.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, call 256-9725.